Lobbying & Networking
This NYPAN video of a constituent lobbying training session might be helpful:
Politicians get a lot of money from industry and special interests, encouraging them to vote one way. If we want to encourage them to vote the other way, and we don’t have money to give them, we have to try other methods of influence. We can try to shame them -- expose their greed or self-serving behavior or links to undesirable characters. We can try to intimidate them -- march and chant and shout outside their offices, ask tough questions at town halls, and so forth. We can also try to convince them to change their minds. There are no guarantees that any of these methods will work, but we can certainly try.
When trying to convince a politician to change his or her mind, it is important to appeal to their desire to be seen as “taking care of their constituents.” You should be a constituent, or at the very least, take a constituent with you. Make an appointment at the politician’s regional office, show up on time, and be friendly with the staffer. The staffer is key. This person (who is often overworked and underpaid) knows your politician, has their ear, and can give you tips on how to phrase your argument. Do NOT be belligerent or argumentative. Take your cue from Zephyr Teachout and how she ran against Governor Cuomo. Go on the charm offensive.
But before you arrive in at the regional office, get prepared. Read up on your politician, including personal details like whether they have children, where they went to school, and so forth. Look for a video online of them speaking, so you can get an idea of their personality and speaking style. Try to figure out what motivates your politician -- and assume positive intent (for the purpose of this exercise, at a minimum). Are they concerned about family values, neighbors taking care of neighbors, workers working hard and being proud of supporting their families? This will help you find a way to phrase your “ask” in a way that aligns with their values.
If you are going with a constituent team, choose a number of roles, and practice them ahead of time! Perhaps you have one person with you who is a small business owner, one who is a single mom, and one who has a chronic illness. The small business owner could present the progressive viewpoint from the perspective of an employer. The single mom could talk about how the issue affects her family financially. The chronically ill person could tell the story of her last visit to a hospital. Facts and figures are fine, but the personal story is the most important part of your lobbying effort. Try to tell a story that is a little different from a “typical” story. Leave a sheet with the facts and figures behind (and have a copy for the staffer.)
Remember, you want your visit to be pleasant, memorable and compelling. If you attack your politician, he or she will get defensive and hold fast to their established position even harder.
If you have time, try to ask insightful questions from your politician. This will serve the dual purpose of building rapport and helping you find an “inside angle” to make your argument more convincing.
Digital Media Tutorials
Broadcast is Dead
Arun Chaudhary, digital creative director to the Bernie Sanders campaign and founder of Revolution Messaging, spoke to us at our conference in Binghamton.
One of the many, many great insights he shared with us was the fact that all campaigns and all messaging have to be online, or they are going nowhere. And they have to be online in the form of short videos or other graphic-rich compelling content, and they have to be part of a narrative. “A narrative is when you put facts and events in an emotional framework…. because when you are explaining, you are losing.” A narrative is NOT a list: “Joe did this and Joe did that and Joe did the other” or “Joe cares about x and y and z.” You have to distill the very essence of your candidate or your message -- in Bernie’s case, one important narrative was that “he was running because he gives a shit” -- and then you take a dash of that essence and dust it on whatever image you create for his campaign. In Bernie’s case, the campaign could produce digital material after several months that barely needed to show Bernie at all. When Erica Garner talked on camera about her father being killed by police, and how it motivated her to take to the streets to fight for justice, because our country shouldn’t be this way… and how (90 seconds later) that was why she was voting for Bernie Sanders, the viewer could simply nod and say, “of course, that’s because he gives a shit, just like Erica.” It was “sticky.” No one needed to explain anything.
Running for Office
Are you inspired to run for office in your local town or city? Or for a seat on your county legislature? Or for a spot on your local Democratic Committee? One of the best things you can do is first go work on someone else’s campaign. You will learn such things as:
- Carrying petitions. A candidate running for any office will need to carry petitions and collect signatures, basically as proof to the board of elections that they have a minimal level of support in the community. The BOE will print out blank forms for you (or explain to you what you need to print out, so you can print them yourself at home) and they will tell you how many signatures you need to get. Always get about twice as many signatures as you need, because there are people who make a hobby out of studying submitted petitions and getting them disqualified for various errors.
Before you submit your petitions, get several very experienced people to look them over for you. Many errors can be corrected by drawing lines through problems, re-writing information, and initializing it. The only part of the petition that has to be filled out by the voter is the signature -- the address, town, and date can be filled out by someone else.
You can ask friends to carry petitions for you, and you can get your name on a petition with other local candidates in the same area, so that each signature counts for all the candidates on the petition. The person carrying the petition has to sign it, after it is full, in the witness section. The witness has to be a registered Democrat (usually from anywhere in the state of New York, but not always) and the voters who sign must all live in the same district as the candidate.
The Board of Elections can give you lists of registered voters in the district, organized by street, from which you can make walk-lists in order to go door-to-door. (This is called “cutting turf.”) You can also collect signatures at a table where voters pass by you, but then it is important to be able to look them up to be sure they can really vote for the candidate. People often forget which party they are registered in or which district they live in. People who are registered in no party (“blanks”) and people who are registered in the Independence Party (started by Ross Perot) can not vote in Democratic primaries or sign Democratic petitions.
- Canvassing. Canvassing can be combined with gathering signatures, in the beginning, and basically involves knocking on doors, talking to people, and figuring out how they feel about a candidate. (“Deep canvassing” doesn’t ask about candidates at all -- the goal is simply to learn about the issues that are important to the voters.) Normally, the canvasser gives the voter a piece of literature with information about the candidate. If no one is home, the canvasser will leave the literature at the house, but NOT in the mailbox (that is against the law.) If someone IS home, the canvasser will take careful notes about who lives in the house and whether they are a “1” (definitey voting for the opposition) or a “5” (definitely voting for the candidate) or in between.
- Data entry. All the notes from canvassers need to be entered into a database. Ideally, all 3’s will then appear on a fresh walk list and get a second pass before election day. At a minimum, all 4’s and 5’s will get a reminder during “GOTV” because otherwise they are quite likely to just forget to go vote. Ideally, your candidate’s campaign manager will find a way to note which voters are voting for the candidate but don’t need a reminder, so they can be skipped over on future passes. But every voter gets a note on the door or a postcard or something, during GOTV.
- GOTV (get out the vote) happens on the Saturday before election day through the end of election day Tuesday itself. The campaign does not knock on any new doors, because there is a chance that they will knock on the door of an unidentified “1” and inadvertently get that person out to vote. All identified 4’s and 5’s get a reminder to vote. The candidate should know by this time what his or her “win number” is (based on the number of registered voters in the district and previous turnout statistics.) If the number of identified 4’s and 5’s is lower than the win number, the campaign might also knock again on doors with 3’s, during GOTV.
Of course, if you want to run for office, you should know something about the office and have a passion for public service and be able to speak to reporters and on camera -- that all goes without saying. You should have some funds for yard signs, flyers and postage stamps, but that will not be very expensive, at the local level. The most important thing you will need are passionate friends who are willing to work for your campaign for free. Feed them. Get them fired up. And get your process in order, because there is nothing quite as frustrating for a volunteer as collecting lots of nice data at people’s doors and then finding out that they didn’t record it in the right way, and it all has to get thrown out.